marine protected areas
We are thrilled to announce another ocean victory this week! In an ambitious step for ocean protection, Portugal has decided to nominate the rich ecosystem of the Gorringe Bank as a new Marine Protected Area.
The Gorringe seamounts, located 300 kilometers off the coast of Portugal in the Atlantic Ocean, are a marvel to behold: at 5000 meters high, they boast a veritable kaleidoscope of colorful flora and fauna. Since 2005, Oceana has worked to draw attention and recognition to this bank, and to bring its spectacular seamount ranges into the network of marine protected areas.
An Oceana expedition by our catamaran, the Ranger, to the Gorringe area in October 2012 documented species never before seen in these seamounts, including branching black coral, roughskin dogfish, hydrocoral, bird’s nest sponge, and various gorgonia. Dozens of the species observed on this expedition have not yet been identified. Unfortunately, among these unique wonders, the expedition also documented the invasive presence of litter, debris, and fishing gear, particularly in the rocky seabeds of the banks.
The nomination of the Gorringe as a protected area in the Atlantic brings hope for a halt and even a reversal of the destruction of this complex and diverse ecosystem that hosts corals, sharks, seabirds, whales, and more. Currently, Portugal maintains the least marine protected surface in all of Europe. With this ambitious project, however, the Portuguese government looks to soar from the bottom of the list to the top. Boasting more than 1.7 square kilometers in its Exclusive Economic Zone and nearly 4 million square kilometers claimed as an expansion of its continental shelf, Portugal’s bold step for the oceans is an admirable example for the EU, and for all coastal countries of the world.
We’re pleased to announce that the Spanish government has put an end to proposed oil industry development that would have threatened the Doñana National Park, a World Heritage Site, after campaigning by Oceana and our allies.
Plans to build an oil refinery in the Gulf of Cadiz, not far from Doñana, would have led to higher ship traffic in the area and a higher risk of oil spills or accidents during the tankers’ unloading operations. Oceana is currently working to create a Marine Protected Area in this section of the Gulf of Cadiz, which would be linked to the National Park.
Doñana National Park was established in 1993 and named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. Its marshes, streams, and sand dunes are home to plants and animals found almost nowhere else in the world.
Many migratory birds spend their winters in the park lands, and endangered species like the Spanish imperial eagle and the Iberian lynx (one of the world’s most endangered cat species) call this area home. In the marshes of Doñana National Park, you can also find birds like the Avocet and the Purple Heron, both of which depend on the sensitive estuary habitats.
Increased oil tanker traffic could have potentially damaged the already vulnerable habitats of these animals.
Oceana identified the threats posed by the construction of this oil refinery in 2005, and has been campaigning against it with other conservationist groups. Oceana Europe is now calling on the Spanish government to enact similar protections for other marine protected areas.
Great news today: The Chilean Government announced its intention to expand the Salas y Gómez marine reserve and to create a smaller reserve in Hanga Roa Bay – the harbor right off the main town and capital of historic Easter Island. This new marine conservation plan for Easter Island is set to be established by the end of the year.
The government also announced the plan to develop an assessment and status report of the main fisheries of Easter Island.
Following an expedition in 2010 to Salas y Gómez Island, led by Oceana, National Geographic, and the Waitt Foundation, the Chilean President announced the creation of the original Salas y Gómez marine reserve. This no-take reserve protects 150,000 square kilometers around the island – an area larger than Greece.
In 2011, Oceana and National Geographic Society partnered with the Chilean Navy and conducted an unprecedented expedition to study the marine area surrounding Easter Island and Salas y Gómez Island to assess their current states of conservation and potential need for new protection measures. Using the baseline study developed from this collaboration, Oceana proposed the expansion of the Salas y Gómez marine reserve, Motu Motiro Hiva, to an area of 411,000 km2, making it the second largest no-take marine protected area in the world.
These marine protected areas can only officially be declared after a referendum is conducted for the people of Easter Island, known as the Rapa Nui, and they give their approval for the proposals.
Easter Island is a UNESCO World Heritage site, famous for its stone statues, called Moai. Salas y Gómez Island is a small uninhabited island 250 miles east of Easter Island in the Pacific Ocean. It was described by Dr. Enric Sala, marine ecologist and National Geographic Ocean Fellow, as one of the last undisturbed and relatively pristine places left in the ocean.
We’re excited to hear that Chile is electing to protect its invaluable marine resources in Easter Island and Salas y Gómez – and we’ll keep you posted as things progress.
Editor's note: This is part 4 in a series of dispatches from the Philippines.
The last site we visited was overseen by Rare conservation fellow Marybeth Rita. Marybeth has a tough job because her campaign covers three towns separated by a hilly unfinished highway that she traverses by motorbike. After some heavy overnight rain, our van could hardly make it through the deep mud (with no guard rail down to the bay!) so I appreciated the difficulty of Marybeth’s assignment.
The mayor of Lanuza, Salvacion Azarcon, met us at her office in the morning. She was a really inspiring woman, and not just because she offered us some local palm wine at 8:30 in the morning. Called pirik-pirik, the wine was mixed with raisins to give it a very mildly sweet taste. It was good enough that we kept the bottle and had more later in the day.
Marybeth and the mayor were working together not just to enact 24/7 volunteer guarding at the MPA, but to start a critically important program to register fishermen. Right now, most local fishermen aren’t registered in any way, so it’s hard to tell if they’re legally in the municipal waters or not. Once registered, fishers will get an awning designed by Marybeth and the pride campaign that promotes the protection of the MPA.
The registration program will also allow fishers to become eligible for a low-interest 2,500 peso loan (about $58). This is a key element of keeping poverty at bay, because unfortunately many fishers can end up in hock to unscrupulous lenders who make loans at outrageous interest rates.
Editor's note: This is part 3 in a series of dispatches from the Philippines.
Ayoke Island may be the most idyllic place I’ve ever seen. It’s a small island in the northern part of Lanuza Bay covered with a riot of coconut and palm trees.
The town is a small cluster of bamboo and thatch homes. I was lucky enough to get to snorkel in the aqua waters of the Ayoke Island MPA with Lito, a Rare staffer, while fishers held a community meeting in the guardhouse. Unlike the waters of Cortes, which contain mostly an undulating seagrass meadow, Ayoke is home to a stunning reef with ten-foot table corals and seemingly endless clusters of branch corals.
But even in this paradise, there are signs of trouble. We saw very few fish, although I did spot one fat sea cucumber resting on a table coral. I didn’t see any giant clams, although Lito said he saw a dead one. Broken patches of branch corals littering the ground were evidence of dynamite fishing.
Even so, Ayoke Island’s MPA was named one of the Philippines’ top 10 marine protected areas, no small feat in a country with 1,600 MPAs, the most in the world. But as recently as December the community faced a real test when the MPA was dynamited during the town’s fiesta, when no one was volunteering at the guardhouse. No one knew about the bombing until a family that was new to town showed up at the market with several boxes of fish that everyone immediately recognized as the result of dynamite fishing. As fishers told Cherry Ravelo, Rare’s conservation fellow for Ayoke and nearby General Island, they felt like they had been robbed.
Editor's note: This is part 2 in a series of dispatches from the Philippines.
One of the biggest challenges facing sustainable fishing in the Philippines is the prevalence of dynamite fishing, where fishers create an improvised bomb out of a rum or Coke bottle and ammonium sulfate. The sound wave created by the explosion stuns the fish, which float to the surface, but it also destroys corals and seagrass meadows that can take years to recover from a single blast.
Dynamite fishing has been a problem in Cortes, a town on the southern half of Lanuza Bay. There’s a lot of pressure to fish here no matter the cost, because the area produces no other local meat or fruit – everything except some coconuts is sold at the market in Tandag, a half-hour drive to the south. As a result, 80 percent of the residents are fishers, and much of the fish they catch is used to feed their families.
This makes Cortes a perfect location for a Rare campaign, and the mayor, Pedro Trinidad Jr., is an enthusiastic participant. Along with Rare conservation fellow Vincent Duenas, the mayor has upped enforcement of the local MPA – one of Cortes’ eight MPAs – with 24/7 volunteer guards. The mayor has even gotten approval to start a landmark program that would require families on welfare assistance to volunteer for shifts in the guardhouse, the first program of its kind in the country.
Vince’s work to educate the town about dynamite and illegal fishing has been so successful that fishermen who were part of the problem have now come around. “Illegal fishermen are now stewards of the sea,” the mayor said as we met over lunch. “Those who were dynamiting the fish are now guarding the MPA.”
Later, we went to visit the guardhouse in Uba, a tiny town of 150 fishing families a short drive from Cortes. Vince’s campaign mascot, a friendly oversize rabbitfish named Rabita, made an appearance – swarmed by children – and we met with a dozen fishers and their wives and daughters in the guardhouse, located on a rocky outcropping just outside town.
Editor's note: This is part 1 in a series of dispatches from the Philippines.
The northeast coast of Mindanao island in the Philippines is home to a series of small towns comprised almost completely of fishing families.
Last week, I visited several of the municipalities along with Rare, a US-based group that is working to protect the region’s local fishing livelihoods and help keep the communities out of the poverty spiral that can happen when there’s no more fish, and therefore, no more food.
Rare sponsors conservation fellows in 12 areas in the Philippines. These fellows, who are members of the community, become part of Rare’s two-year program to end destructive and illegal fishing and safeguard the local marine protected area, which is kind of a “fish bank” for the town. In return, the fellows earn a master’s degree from the University of Texas.
These marine protected areas (MPAs) are quite small – 100 acres here, 200 acres there – but they make a huge difference to the communities, which include fishers working from paddle dugout and outrigger canoes with basic hook-and-line or net gear. Before Rare’s campaigns got started last fall, many of the MPAs weren’t really guarded closely and illegal fishing within the boundaries, which are usually marked by buoys or bamboo poles, was difficult to stop. But now Rare’s fellows have been organizing 24/7 enforcement of the MPAs and for the most part, illegal and destructive fishing has been greatly curbed.
Rare’s projects are called Pride Campaigns because they take care to show the towns that they have something special and worth protecting. The MPA guards are all volunteers, with overnight shifts lasting 12 hours or more, and we learned that some of the guards are local fishermen who were once illegally fishing within the MPA before learning the value of protecting it.
In addition to staffing the MPA, the Rare fellows create a mascot for the campaign that’s based on the area’s flagship species, like rabbitfish, lobster or giant clams. These cute anthropomorphized creatures have quickly become the most popular parts of the campaigns. In the little villages of Mindanao, the arrival of the mascots is a major event.
I’ll talk a little more about each fellow that I met in upcoming posts, but I first want to thank Rare for letting me tag along on these site visits. It was really an extraordinary experience.
Great news! Today the Oregon House passed a bill making Oregon’s first network of marine reserves and marine protected areas (MPAs). The bill, which Oceana has been actively supporting, now goes to the governor’s desk for a signature.
The bill calls on state agencies, the State Fish and Wildlife Commission, and State Land Board to create marine reserves and adjacent MPAs at Cape Falcon, Cascade Head and Cape Perpetua.
The three new marine reserves and MPAs add 109 square miles (70,000 acres) to the already designated 9 square miles of area at Redfish Rocks and Otter Rock. All areas combined total less than 10 percent of Oregon’s Territorial Sea; leaving the vast majority of Oregon’s Pacific waters open to fishing and development. The marine reserves will be ‘no-take’ and the MPAs will allow activities like fishing for Dungeness crab and salmon, while prohibiting bottom trawling, the harvest of forage fish, and offshore development.
Marine reserves have positive ecological benefits inside and outside of their protective boundaries, as fish and wildlife populations increase and then spill over into adjacent areas.
“This is a great first step in protecting sensitive and important ecological areas off our coasts,” said Whit Sheard, Pacific counsel and senior advisor with Oceana. “This bill represents some difficult compromises, but it is a critical step forward for the long-term management of our publicly held ocean resources.”
Oceana will continue to work with regional managers and local communities to ensure the future well-being of the Pacific Ocean off Oregon and its wildlife.
Today the Oregon Senate passed Senate Bill 1510, which brings Oregon’s first network of marine reserves and marine protected areas off the Oregon coast one step closer to implementation.
An ecologically significant network of marine reserves and protected areas would make the entire Oregon near-shore ecosystem more healthy and resilient to increasing pressures from overfishing, habitat damage, and changing ocean conditions from global warming and ocean acidification.
The bill will now have to pass the House before heading to the Governor’s desk for signing. If it does, Oregon’s marine reserve and protected area sites will total 118 square miles and make up less than 10 percent of the Pacific Ocean waters in the state’s jurisdiction. (See a map here.) We see this as a great start, but we hope Oregon will continue to identify all of its important ecological areas and ultimately build an ecologically significant network of protected areas and reserves for the full coast.
As a part of European Maritime Day, today Oceana’s team in the Baltic released some initial findings from the ongoing expedition. They presented guidelines for the protection of the Baltic Sea, including rules for sustainable fisheries management, habitat protection and ending harmful fishing subsidies.
The expedition team has been documenting the incredible biodiversity of the Baltic; check out the latest photos - from beautiful nudibranchs to grey seals to a dead jellyfish in the oxygen-deprived bottom of the deepest part of the Baltic:
These photos reveal the impact of pollution, overfishing and destructive fishing practices on the Baltic, but they also show areas with healthy ecosystems and rich biodiversity, providing a window into what the Baltic Sea could look like if Marine Protected Areas are expanded and well-protected, and if laws and regulations are fully enforced.
Studies have shown that such enhanced protection measures and more stringent management of fish resources would benefit fishermen and local communities dependent on fisheries, as well as at-risk ecosystems.
Stay tuned for more from our team in the Baltic!